SEJANUS: HIS FALL
By Ben Jonson
Transcriber's note: This play is based on events that happened a millennium and a half before Jonson wrote it. Jonson added 247 scholarly footnotes to this play; all were in Latin (except for a scattering of Greek). They, and the Greek quotation which forms Tiberius Caesar's tag line in Scene II, Act II, have been elided.
THE greatest of English dramatists except Shakespeare, the first literary dictator and poet-laureate, a writer of verse, prose, satire, and criticism who most potently of all the men of his time affected the subsequent course of English letters: such was Ben Jonson, and as such his strong personality assumes an interest to us almost unparalleled, at least in his age.
Ben Jonson came of the stock that was centuries after to give to the world Thomas Carlyle; for Jonson's grandfather was of Annandale, over the Solway, whence he migrated to England. Jonson's father lost his estate under Queen Mary, "having been cast into prison and forfeited." He entered the church, but died a month before his illustrious son was born, leaving his widow and child in poverty. Jonson's birthplace was Westminster, and the time of his birth early in 1573. He was thus nearly ten years Shakespeare's junior, and less well off, if a trifle better born. But Jonson did not profit even by this slight advantage. His mother married beneath her, a wright or bricklayer, and Jonson was for a time apprenticed to the trade. As a youth he attracted the attention of the famous antiquary, William Camden, then usher at Westminster School, and there the poet laid the solid foundations of his classical learning. Jonson always held Camden in veneration, acknowledging that to him he owed,
"All that I am in arts, all that I know:"
and dedicating his first dramatic success, "Every Man in His Humour," to him. It is doubtful whether Jonson ever went to either university, though Fuller says that he was "statutably admitted into St. John's College, Cambridge." He tells us that he took no degree, but was later "Master of Arts in both the universities, by their favour, not his study." When a mere youth Jonson enlisted as a soldier trailing his pike in Flanders in the protracted wars of William the Silent against the Spanish. Jonson was a large and raw-boned lad; he became by his own account in time exceedingly bulky. In chat with his friend William Drummond of Hawthornden, Jonson told how "in his service in the Low Countries he had, in the face of both the camps, killed an enemy, and taken 'opima spolia' from him;" and how "since his coming to England, being appealed to the fields, he had killed his adversary which had hurt him in the arm and whose sword was ten inches longer than his." Jonson's reach may have made up for the lack of his sword; certainly his prowess lost nothing in the telling. Obviously Jonson was brave, combative, and not averse to talking of himself and his doings.
In 1592, Jonson returned from abroad penniless. Soon after he married, almost as early and quite as imprudently as Shakespeare. He told Drummond curtly that "his wife was a shrew, yet honest"; for some years he lived apart from her in the household of Lord Albany. Yet two touching epitaphs among Jonson's 'Epigrams', "On my first daughter," and "On my first son," attest the warmth of the poet's family affections. The daughter died in infancy, the son of the plague; another son grew up to manhood little credit to his father whom he survived. We know nothing beyond this of Jonson's domestic life.
How soon Jonson drifted into what we now call grandly "the theatrical profession" we do not know. In 1593 Marlowe made his tragic exit from life, and Greene, Shakespeare's other rival on the popular stage, had preceded Marlowe in an equally miserable death the year before. Shakespeare already had the running to himself. Jonson appears first in the employment of Philip Henslowe, the exploiter of several troupes of players, manager, and father-in-law of the famous actor, Edward Alleyn. From entries in 'Henslowe's Diary', a species of theatrical account book which has been handed down to us, we know that Jonson was connected with the Admiral's men; for he borrowed L4 of Henslowe, July 28, 1597, paying back 3s. 9d. on the same day on account of his "share" (in what is not altogether clear); while later, on December 3, of the same year, Henslowe advanced 20s. to him "upon a book which he showed the plot unto the company which he promised to deliver unto the company at Christmas next." In the next August Jonson was in collaboration with Chettle and Porter in a play called "Hot Anger Soon Cold." All this points to an association with Henslowe of some duration, as no mere tyro would be thus paid in advance upon mere promise. From allusions in Dekker's play, "Satiromastix," it appears that Jonson, like Shakespeare, began life as an actor, and that he "ambled in a leather pitch by a play-wagon" taking at one time the part of Hieronimo in Kyd's famous play, "The Spanish Tragedy." By the beginning of 1598, Jonson, though still in needy circumstances, had begun to receive recognition. Francis Meres—well known for his "Comparative Discourse of our English Poets with the Greek, Latin, and Italian Poets," printed in 1598, and for his mention therein of a dozen plays of Shakespeare by title—accords to Ben Jonson a place as one of "our best in tragedy," a matter of some surprise, as no known tragedy of Jonson from so early a date has come down to us. That Jonson was at work on tragedy, however, is proved by the entries in Henslowe of at least three tragedies, now lost, in which he had a hand. These are "Page of Plymouth," "King Robert II. of Scotland," and "Richard Crookback." But all of these came later, on his return to Henslowe, and range from August 1599 to June 1602.
Returning to the autumn of 1598, an event now happened to sever for a time Jonson's relations with Henslowe. In a letter to Alleyn, dated September 26 of that year, Henslowe writes: "I have lost one of my company that hurteth me greatly; that is Gabriel [Spencer], for he is slain in Hogsden fields by the hands of Benjamin Jonson, bricklayer." The last word is perhaps Henslowe's thrust at Jonson in his displeasure rather than a designation of his actual continuance at his trade up to this time. It is fair to Jonson to remark however, that his adversary appears to have been a notorious fire-eater who had shortly before killed one Feeke in a similar squabble. Duelling was a frequent occurrence of the time among gentlemen and the nobility; it was an imprudent breach of the peace on the part of a player. This duel is the one which Jonson described years after to Drummond, and for it Jonson was duly arraigned at Old Bailey, tried, and convicted. He was sent to prison and such goods and chattels as he had "were forfeited." It is a thought to give one pause that, but for the ancient law permitting convicted felons to plead, as it was called, the benefit of clergy, Jonson might have been hanged for this deed. The circumstance that the poet could read and write saved him; and he received only a brand of the letter "T," for Tyburn, on his left thumb. While in jail Jonson became a Roman Catholic; but he returned to the faith of the Church of England a dozen years later.
On his release, in disgrace with Henslowe and his former associates, Jonson offered his services as a playwright to Henslowe's rivals, the Lord Chamberlain's company, in which Shakespeare was a prominent shareholder. A tradition of long standing, though not susceptible of proof in a court of law, narrates that Jonson had submitted the manuscript of "Every Man in His Humour" to the Chamberlain's men and had received from the company a refusal; that Shakespeare called him back, read the play himself, and at once accepted it. Whether this story is true or not, certain it is that "Every Man in His Humour" was accepted by Shakespeare's company and acted for the first time in 1598, with Shakespeare taking a part. The evidence of this is contained in the list of actors prefixed to the comedy in the folio of Jonson's works, 1616. But it is a mistake to infer, because Shakespeare's name stands first in the list of actors and the elder Kno'well first in the 'dramatis personae', that Shakespeare took that particular part. The order of a list of Elizabethan players was generally that of their importance or priority as shareholders in the company and seldom if ever corresponded to the list of characters.
"Every Man in His Humour" was an immediate success, and with it Jonson's reputation as one of the leading dramatists of his time was established once and for all. This could have been by no means Jonson's earliest comedy, and we have just learned that he was already reputed one of "our best in tragedy." Indeed, one of Jonson's extant comedies, "The Case is Altered," but one never claimed by him or published as his, must certainly have preceded "Every Man in His Humour" on the stage. The former play may be described as a comedy modelled on the Latin plays of Plautus. (It combines, in fact, situations derived from the "Captivi" and the "Aulularia" of that dramatist). But the pretty story of the beggar-maiden, Rachel, and her suitors, Jonson found, not among the classics, but in the ideals of romantic love which Shakespeare had already popularised on the stage. Jonson never again produced so fresh and lovable a feminine personage as Rachel, although in other respects "The Case is Altered" is not a conspicuous play, and, save for the satirising of Antony Munday in the person of Antonio Balladino and Gabriel Harvey as well, is perhaps the least characteristic of the comedies of Jonson.
"Every Man in His Humour," probably first acted late in the summer of 1598 and at the Curtain, is commonly regarded as an epoch-making play; and this view is not unjustified. As to plot, it tells little more than how an intercepted letter enabled a father to follow his supposedly studious son to London, and there observe his life with the gallants of the time. The real quality of this comedy is in its personages and in the theory upon which they are conceived. Ben Jonson had theories about poetry and the drama, and he was neither chary in talking of them nor in experimenting with them in his plays. This makes Jonson, like Dryden in his time, and Wordsworth much later, an author to reckon with; particularly when we remember that many of Jonson's notions came for a time definitely to prevail and to modify the whole trend of English poetry. First of all Jonson was a classicist, that is, he believed in restraint and precedent in art in opposition to the prevalent ungoverned and irresponsible Renaissance spirit. Jonson believed that there was a professional way of doing things which might be reached by a study of the best examples, and he found these examples for the most part among the ancients. To confine our attention to the drama, Jonson objected to the amateurishness and haphazard nature of many contemporary plays, and set himself to do something different; and the first and most striking thing that he evolved was his conception and practice of the comedy of humours.
As Jonson has been much misrepresented in this matter, let us quote his own words as to "humour." A humour, according to Jonson, was a bias of disposition, a warp, so to speak, in character by which
"Some one peculiar quality Doth so possess a man, that it doth draw All his affects, his spirits, and his powers, In their confluctions, all to run one way."
But continuing, Jonson is careful to add:
"But that a rook by wearing a pied feather, The cable hat-band, or the three-piled ruff, A yard of shoe-tie, or the Switzers knot On his French garters, should affect a humour! O, it is more than most ridiculous."
Jonson's comedy of humours, in a word, conceived of stage personages on the basis of a ruling trait or passion (a notable simplification of actual life be it observed in passing); and, placing these typified traits in juxtaposition in their conflict and contrast, struck the spark of comedy. Downright, as his name indicates, is "a plain squire"; Bobadill's humour is that of the braggart who is incidentally, and with delightfully comic effect, a coward; Brainworm's humour is the finding out of things to the end of fooling everybody: of course he is fooled in the end himself. But it was not Jonson's theories alone that made the success of "Every Man in His Humour." The play is admirably written and each character is vividly conceived, and with a firm touch based on observation of the men of the London of the day. Jonson was neither in this, his first great comedy (nor in any other play that he wrote), a supine classicist, urging that English drama return to a slavish adherence to classical conditions. He says as to the laws of the old comedy (meaning by "laws," such matters as the unities of time and place and the use of chorus): "I see not then, but we should enjoy the same licence, or free power to illustrate and heighten our invention as they [the ancients] did; and not be tied to those strict and regular forms which the niceness of a few, who are nothing but form, would thrust upon us." "Every Man in His Humour" is written in prose, a novel practice which Jonson had of his predecessor in comedy, John Lyly. Even the word "humour" seems to have been employed in the Jonsonian sense by Chapman before Jonson's use of it. Indeed, the comedy of humours itself is only a heightened variety of the comedy of manners which represents life, viewed at a satirical angle, and is the oldest and most persistent species of comedy in the language. None the less, Jonson's comedy merited its immediate success and marked out a definite course in which comedy long continued to run. To mention only Shakespeare's Falstaff and his rout, Bardolph, Pistol, Dame Quickly, and the rest, whether in "Henry IV." or in "The Merry Wives of Windsor," all are conceived in the spirit of humours. So are the captains, Welsh, Scotch, and Irish of "Henry V.," and Malvolio especially later; though Shakespeare never employed the method of humours for an important personage. It was not Jonson's fault that many of his successors did precisely the thing that he had reprobated, that is, degrade "the humour: into an oddity of speech, an eccentricity of manner, of dress, or cut of beard." There was an anonymous play called "Every Woman in Her Humour." Chapman wrote "A Humourous Day's Mirth," Day, "Humour Out of Breath," Fletcher later, "The Humourous Lieutenant," and Jonson, besides "Every Man Out of His Humour," returned to the title in closing the cycle of his comedies in "The Magnetic Lady or Humours Reconciled."
With the performance of "Every Man Out of His Humour" in 1599, by Shakespeare's company once more at the Globe, we turn a new page in Jonson's career. Despite his many real virtues, if there is one feature more than any other that distinguishes Jonson, it is his arrogance; and to this may be added his self-righteousness, especially under criticism or satire. "Every Man Out of His Humour" is the first of three "comical satires" which Jonson contributed to what Dekker called the 'poetomachia' or war of the theatres as recent critics have named it. This play as a fabric of plot is a very slight affair; but as a satirical picture of the manners of the time, proceeding by means of vivid caricature, couched in witty and brilliant dialogue and sustained by that righteous indignation which must lie at the heart of all true satire—as a realisation, in short, of the classical ideal of comedy—there had been nothing like Jonson's comedy since the days of Aristophanes. "Every Man in His Humour," like the two plays that follow it, contains two kinds of attack, the critical or generally satiric, levelled at abuses and corruptions in the abstract; and the personal, in which specific application is made of all this in the lampooning of poets and others, Jonson's contemporaries. The method of personal attack by actual caricature of a person on the stage is almost as old as the drama. Aristophanes so lampooned Euripides in "The Acharnians" and Socrates in "The Clouds," to mention no other examples; and in English drama this kind of thing is alluded to again and again. What Jonson really did, was to raise the dramatic lampoon to an art, and make out of a casual burlesque and bit of mimicry a dramatic satire of literary pretensions and permanency. With the arrogant attitude mentioned above and his uncommon eloquence in scorn, vituperation, and invective, it is no wonder that Jonson soon involved himself in literary and even personal quarrels with his fellow-authors. The circumstances of the origin of this 'poetomachia' are far from clear, and those who have written on the topic, except of late, have not helped to make them clearer. The origin of the "war" has been referred to satirical references, apparently to Jonson, contained in "The Scourge of Villainy," a satire in regular form after the manner of the ancients by John Marston, a fellow playwright, subsequent friend and collaborator of Jonson's. On the other hand, epigrams of Jonson have been discovered (49, 68, and 100) variously charging "playwright" (reasonably identified with Marston) with scurrility, cowardice, and plagiarism; though the dates of the epigrams cannot be ascertained with certainty. Jonson's own statement of the matter to Drummond runs: "He had many quarrels with Marston, beat him, and took his pistol from him, wrote his 'Poetaster' on him; the beginning[s] of them were that Marston represented him on the stage."*
[footnote] *The best account of this whole subject is to be found in the edition of 'Poetaster' and 'Satiromastrix' by J. H. Penniman in 'Belles Lettres Series' shortly to appear. See also his earlier work, 'The War of the Theatres', 1892, and the excellent contributions to the subject by H. C. Hart in 'Notes and Queries', and in his edition of Jonson, 1906.
Here at least we are on certain ground; and the principals of the quarrel are known. "Histriomastix," a play revised by Marston in 1598, has been regarded as the one in which Jonson was thus "represented on the stage"; although the personage in question, Chrisogonus, a poet, satirist, and translator, poor but proud, and contemptuous of the common herd, seems rather a complimentary portrait of Jonson than a caricature. As to the personages actually ridiculed in "Every Man Out of His Humour," Carlo Buffone was formerly thought certainly to be Marston, as he was described as "a public scurrilous, and profane jester," and elsewhere as the grand scourge or second untruss [that is, satirist], of the time (Joseph Hall being by his own boast the first, and Marston's work being entitled "The Scourge of Villainy"). Apparently we must now prefer for Carlo a notorious character named Charles Chester, of whom gossipy and inaccurate Aubrey relates that he was "a bold impertinent fellow...a perpetual talker and made a noise like a drum in a room. So one time at a tavern Sir Walter Raleigh beats him and seals up his mouth (that is his upper and nether beard) with hard wax. From him Ben Jonson takes his Carlo Buffone ['i.e.', jester] in 'Every Man in His Humour' ['sic']." Is it conceivable that after all Jonson was ridiculing Marston, and that the point of the satire consisted in an intentional confusion of "the grand scourge or second untruss" with "the scurrilous and profane" Chester?
We have digressed into detail in this particular case to exemplify the difficulties of criticism in its attempts to identify the allusions in these forgotten quarrels. We are on sounder ground of fact in recording other manifestations of Jonson's enmity. In "The Case is Altered" there is clear ridicule in the character Antonio Balladino of Anthony Munday, pageant-poet of the city, translator of romances and playwright as well. In "Every Man in His Humour" there is certainly a caricature of Samuel Daniel, accepted poet of the court, sonneteer, and companion of men of fashion. These men held recognised positions to which Jonson felt his talents better entitled him; they were hence to him his natural enemies. It seems almost certain that he pursued both in the personages of his satire through "Every Man Out of His Humour," and "Cynthia's Revels," Daniel under the characters Fastidious Brisk and Hedon, Munday as Puntarvolo and Amorphus; but in these last we venture on quagmire once more. Jonson's literary rivalry of Daniel is traceable again and again, in the entertainments that welcomed King James on his way to London, in the masques at court, and in the pastoral drama. As to Jonson's personal ambitions with respect to these two men, it is notable that he became, not pageant-poet, but chronologer to the City of London; and that, on the accession of the new king, he came soon to triumph over Daniel as the accepted entertainer of royalty.
"Cynthia's Revels," the second "comical satire," was acted in 1600, and, as a play, is even more lengthy, elaborate, and impossible than "Every Man Out of His Humour." Here personal satire seems to have absorbed everything, and while much of the caricature is admirable, especially in the detail of witty and trenchantly satirical dialogue, the central idea of a fountain of self-love is not very well carried out, and the persons revert at times to abstractions, the action to allegory. It adds to our wonder that this difficult drama should have been acted by the Children of Queen Elizabeth's Chapel, among them Nathaniel Field with whom Jonson read Horace and Martial, and whom he taught later how to make plays. Another of these precocious little actors was Salathiel Pavy, who died before he was thirteen, already famed for taking the parts of old men. Him Jonson immortalised in one of the sweetest of his epitaphs. An interesting sidelight is this on the character of this redoubtable and rugged satirist, that he should thus have befriended and tenderly remembered these little theatrical waifs, some of whom (as we know) had been literally kidnapped to be pressed into the service of the theatre and whipped to the conning of their difficult parts. To the caricature of Daniel and Munday in "Cynthia's Revels" must be added Anaides (impudence), here assuredly Marston, and Asotus (the prodigal), interpreted as Lodge or, more perilously, Raleigh. Crites, like Asper-Macilente in "Every Man Out of His Humour," is Jonson's self-complaisant portrait of himself, the just, wholly admirable, and judicious scholar, holding his head high above the pack of the yelping curs of envy and detraction, but careless of their puny attacks on his perfections with only too mindful a neglect.
The third and last of the "comical satires" is "Poetaster," acted, once more, by the Children of the Chapel in 1601, and Jonson's only avowed contribution to the fray. According to the author's own account, this play was written in fifteen weeks on a report that his enemies had entrusted to Dekker the preparation of "Satiromastix, the Untrussing of the Humorous Poet," a dramatic attack upon himself. In this attempt to forestall his enemies Jonson succeeded, and "Poetaster" was an immediate and deserved success. While hardly more closely knit in structure than its earlier companion pieces, "Poetaster" is planned to lead up to the ludicrous final scene in which, after a device borrowed from the "Lexiphanes" of Lucian, the offending poetaster, Marston-Crispinus, is made to throw up the difficult words with which he had overburdened his stomach as well as overlarded his vocabulary. In the end Crispinus with his fellow, Dekker-Demetrius, is bound over to keep the peace and never thenceforward "malign, traduce, or detract the person or writings of Quintus Horatius Flaccus [Jonson] or any other eminent man transcending you in merit." One of the most diverting personages in Jonson's comedy is Captain Tucca. "His peculiarity" has been well described by Ward as "a buoyant blackguardism which recovers itself instantaneously from the most complete exposure, and a picturesqueness of speech like that of a walking dictionary of slang."
It was this character, Captain Tucca, that Dekker hit upon in his reply, "Satiromastix," and he amplified him, turning his abusive vocabulary back upon Jonson and adding "An immodesty to his dialogue that did not enter into Jonson's conception." It has been held, altogether plausibly, that when Dekker was engaged professionally, so to speak, to write a dramatic reply to Jonson, he was at work on a species of chronicle history, dealing with the story of Walter Terill in the reign of William Rufus. This he hurriedly adapted to include the satirical characters suggested by "Poetaster," and fashioned to convey the satire of his reply. The absurdity of placing Horace in the court of a Norman king is the result. But Dekker's play is not without its palpable hits at the arrogance, the literary pride, and self-righteousness of Jonson-Horace, whose "ningle" or pal, the absurd Asinius Bubo, has recently been shown to figure forth, in all likelihood, Jonson's friend, the poet Drayton. Slight and hastily adapted as is "Satiromastix," especially in a comparison with the better wrought and more significant satire of "Poetaster," the town awarded the palm to Dekker, not to Jonson; and Jonson gave over in consequence his practice of "comical satire." Though Jonson was cited to appear before the Lord Chief Justice to answer certain charges to the effect that he had attacked lawyers and soldiers in "Poetaster," nothing came of this complaint. It may be suspected that much of this furious clatter and give-and-take was pure playing to the gallery. The town was agog with the strife, and on no less an authority than Shakespeare ("Hamlet," ii. 2), we learn that the children's company (acting the plays of Jonson) did "so berattle the common stages...that many, wearing rapiers, are afraid of goose-quills, and dare scarce come thither."
Several other plays have been thought to bear a greater or less part in the war of the theatres. Among them the most important is a college play, entitled "The Return from Parnassus," dating 1601-02. In it a much-quoted passage makes Burbage, as a character, declare: "Why here's our fellow Shakespeare puts them all down; aye and Ben Jonson, too. O that Ben Jonson is a pestilent fellow; he brought up Horace, giving the poets a pill, but our fellow Shakespeare hath given him a purge that made him bewray his credit." Was Shakespeare then concerned in this war of the stages? And what could have been the nature of this "purge"? Among several suggestions, "Troilus and Cressida" has been thought by some to be the play in which Shakespeare thus "put down" his friend, Jonson. A wiser interpretation finds the "purge" in "Satiromastix," which, though not written by Shakespeare, was staged by his company, and therefore with his approval and under his direction as one of the leaders of that company.
The last years of the reign of Elizabeth thus saw Jonson recognised as a dramatist second only to Shakespeare, and not second even to him as a dramatic satirist. But Jonson now turned his talents to new fields. Plays on subjects derived from classical story and myth had held the stage from the beginning of the drama, so that Shakespeare was making no new departure when he wrote his "Julius Caesar" about 1600. Therefore when Jonson staged "Sejanus," three years later and with Shakespeare'scompany once more, he was only following in the elder dramatist's footsteps. But Jonson's idea of a play on classical history, on the one hand, and Shakespeare's and the elder popular dramatists, on the other, were very different. Heywood some years before had put five straggling plays on the stage in quick succession, all derived from stories in Ovid and dramatised with little taste or discrimination. Shakespeare had a finer conception of form, but even he was contented to take all his ancient history from North's translation of Plutarch and dramatise his subject without further inquiry. Jonson was a scholar and a classical antiquarian. He reprobated this slipshod amateurishness, and wrote his "Sejanus" like a scholar, reading Tacitus, Suetonius, and other authorities, to be certain of his facts, his setting, and his atmosphere, and somewhat pedantically noting his authorities in the margin when he came to print. "Sejanus" is a tragedy of genuine dramatic power in which is told with discriminating taste the story of the haughty favourite of Tiberius with his tragical overthrow. Our drama presents no truer nor more painstaking representation of ancient Roman life than may be found in Jonson's "Sejanus" and "Catiline his Conspiracy," which followed in 1611. A passage in the address of the former play to the reader, in which Jonson refers to a collaboration in an earlier version, has led to the surmise that Shakespeare may have been that "worthier pen." There is no evidence to determine the matter.
In 1605, we find Jonson in active collaboration with Chapman and Marston in the admirable comedy of London life entitled "Eastward Hoe." In the previous year, Marston had dedicated his "Malcontent," in terms of fervid admiration, to Jonson; so that the wounds of the war of the theatres must have been long since healed. Between Jonson and Chapman there was the kinship of similar scholarly ideals. The two continued friends throughout life. "Eastward Hoe" achieved the extraordinary popularity represented in a demand for three issues in one year. But this was not due entirely to the merits of the play. In its earliest version a passage which an irritable courtier conceived to be derogatory to his nation, the Scots, sent both Chapman and Jonson to jail; but the matter was soon patched up, for by this time Jonson had influence at court.
With the accession of King James, Jonson began his long and successful career as a writer of masques. He wrote more masques than all his competitors together, and they are of an extraordinary variety and poetic excellence. Jonson did not invent the masque; for such premeditated devices to set and frame, so to speak, a court ball had been known and practised in varying degrees of elaboration long before his time. But Jonson gave dramatic value to the masque, especially in his invention of the antimasque, a comedy or farcical element of relief, entrusted to professional players or dancers. He enhanced, as well, the beauty and dignity of those portions of the masque in which noble lords and ladies took their parts to create, by their gorgeous costumes and artistic grouping and evolutions, a sumptuous show. On the mechanical and scenic side Jonson had an inventive and ingenious partner in Inigo Jones, the royal architect, who more than any one man raised the standard of stage representation in the England of his day. Jonson continued active in the service of the court in the writing of masques and other entertainments far into the reign of King Charles; but, towards the end, a quarrel with Jones embittered his life, and the two testy old men appear to have become not only a constant irritation to each other, but intolerable bores at court. In "Hymenaei," "The Masque of Queens," "Love Freed from Ignorance," "Lovers made Men," "Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue," and many more will be found Jonson's aptitude, his taste, his poetry and inventiveness in these by-forms of the drama; while in "The Masque of Christmas," and "The Gipsies Metamorphosed" especially, is discoverable that power ofbroad comedy which, at court as well as in the city, was not the least element of Jonson's contemporary popularity.
But Jonson had by no means given up the popular stage when he turned to the amusement of King James. In 1605 "Volpone" was produced, "The Silent Woman" in 1609, "The Alchemist" in the following year. These comedies, with "Bartholomew Fair," 1614, represent Jonson at his height, and for constructive cleverness, character successfully conceived in the manner of caricature, wit and brilliancy of dialogue, they stand alone in English drama. "Volpone, or the Fox," is, in a sense, a transition play from the dramatic satires of the war of the theatres to the purer comedy represented in the plays named above. Its subject is a struggle of wit applied to chicanery; for among its 'dramatis personae', from the villainous Fox himself, his rascally servant Mosca, Voltore (the vulture), Corbaccio and Corvino (the big and the little raven), to Sir Politic Would-be and the rest, there is scarcely a virtuous character in the play. Question has been raised as to whether a story so forbidding can be considered a comedy, for, although the plot ends in the discomfiture and imprisonment of the most vicious, it involves no moral catastrophe. But Jonson was on sound historical ground, for "Volpone" is conceived far more logically on the lines of the ancients' theory of comedy than was ever the romantic drama of Shakespeare, however repulsive we may find a philosophy of life that facilely divides the world into the rogues and their dupes, and, identifying brains with roguery and innocence with folly, admires the former while inconsistently punishing them.
"The Silent Woman" is a gigantic farce of the most ingenious construction. The whole comedy hinges on a huge joke, played by a heartless nephew on his misanthropic uncle, who is induced to take to himself a wife, young, fair, and warranted silent, but who, in the end, turns out neither silent nor a woman at all. In "The Alchemist," again, we have the utmost cleverness in construction, the whole fabric building climax on climax, witty, ingenious, and so plausibly presented that we forget its departures from the possibilities of life. In "The Alchemist" Jonson represented, none the less to the life, certain sharpers of the metropolis, revelling in their shrewdness and rascality and in the variety of the stupidity and wickedness of their victims. We may object to the fact that the only person in the play possessed of a scruple of honesty is discomfited, and that the greatest scoundrel of all is approved in the end and rewarded. The comedy is so admirably written and contrived, the personages stand out with such lifelike distinctness in their several kinds, and the whole is animated with such verve and resourcefulness that "The Alchemist" is a new marvel every time it is read. Lastly of this group comes the tremendous comedy, "Bartholomew Fair," less clear cut, less definite, and less structurally worthy of praise than its three predecessors, but full of the keenest and cleverest of satire and inventive to a degree beyond any English comedy save some other of Jonson's own. It is in "Bartholomew Fair" that we are presented to the immortal caricature of the Puritan, Zeal-in-the-Land Busy, and the Littlewits that group about him, and it is in this extraordinary comedy that the humour of Jonson, always open to this danger, loosens into the Rabelaisian mode that so delighted King James in "The Gipsies Metamorphosed." Another comedy of less merit is "The Devil is an Ass," acted in 1616. It was the failure of this play that caused Jonson to give over writing for the public stage for a period of nearly ten years.
"Volpone" was laid as to scene in Venice. Whether because of the success of "Eastward Hoe" or for other reasons, the other three comedies declare in the words of the prologue to "The Alchemist":
"Our scene is London, 'cause we would make known No country's mirth is better than our own."
Indeed Jonson went further when he came to revise his plays for collected publication in his folio of 1616, he transferred the scene of "Every Man in His Humou r" from Florence to London also, converting Signior Lorenzo di Pazzi to Old Kno'well, Prospero to Master Welborn, and Hesperida to Dame Kitely "dwelling i' the Old Jewry."
In his comedies of London life, despite his trend towards caricature, Jonson has shown himself a genuine realist, drawing from the life about him with an experience and insight rare in any generation. A happy comparison has been suggested between Ben Jonson and Charles Dickens. Both were men of the people, lowly born and hardly bred. Each knew the London of his time as few men knew it; and each represented it intimately and in elaborate detail. Both men were at heart moralists, seeking the truth by the exaggerated methods of humour and caricature; perverse, even wrong-headed at times, but possessed of a true pathos and largeness of heart, and when all has been said—though the Elizabethan ran to satire, the Victorian to sentimentality—leaving the world better for the art that they practised in it.
In 1616, the year of the death of Shakespeare, Jonson collected his plays, his poetry, and his masques for publication in a collective edition. This was an unusual thing at the time and had been attempted by no dramatist before Jonson. This volume published, in a carefully revised text, all the plays thus far mentioned, excepting "The Case is Altered," which Jonson did not acknowledge, "Bartholomew Fair," and "The Devil is an Ass," which was written too late. It included likewise a book of some hundred and thirty odd 'Epigrams', in which form of brief and pungent writing Jonson was an acknowledged master; "The Forest," a smaller collection of lyric and occasional verse and some ten 'Masques' and 'Entertainments'. In this same year Jonson was made poet laureate with a pension of one hundred marks a year. This, with his fees and returns from several noblemen, and the small earnings of his plays must have formed the bulk of his income. The poet appears to have done certain literary hack-work for others, as, for example, parts of the Punic Wars contributed to Raleigh's 'History of the World'. We know from a story, little to the credit of either, that Jonson accompanied Raleigh's son abroad in the capacity of a tutor. In 1618 Jonson was granted the reversion of the office of Master of the Revels, a post for which he was peculiarly fitted; but he did not live to enjoy its perquisites. Jonson was honoured with degrees by both universities, though when and under what circumstances is not known. It has been said that he narrowly escaped the honour of knighthood, which the satirists of the day averred King James was wont to lavish with an indiscriminate hand. Worse men were made knights in his day than worthy Ben Jonson.
From 1616 to the close of the reign of King James, Jonson produced nothing for the stage. But he "prosecuted" what he calls "his wonted studies" with such assiduity that he became in reality, as by report, one of the most learned men of his time. Jonson's theory of authorship involved a wide acquaintance with books and "an ability," as he put it, "to convert the substance or riches of another poet to his own use." Accordingly Jonson read not only the Greek and Latin classics down to the lesser writers, but he acquainted himself especially with the Latin writings of his learned contemporaries, their prose as well as their poetry, their antiquities and curious lore as well as their more solid learning. Though a poor man, Jonson was an indefatigable collector of books. He told Drummond that "the Earl of Pembroke sent him L20 every first day of the new year to buy new books." Unhappily, in 1623, his library was destroyed by fire, an accident serio-comically described in his witty poem, "An Execration upon Vulcan." Yet even now a book turns up from time to time in which is inscribed, in fair large Italian lettering, the name, Ben Jonson. With respect to Jonson's use of his material, Dryden said memorably of him: "[He] was not only a professed imitator of Horace, but a learned plagiary of all the others; you track him everywhere in their snow. ... But he has done his robberies so openly that one sees he fears not to be taxed by any law. He invades authors like a monarch, and what would be theft in other poets is only victory in him." And yet it is but fair to say that Jonson prided himself, and justly, on his originality. In "Catiline," he not only uses Sallust's account of the conspiracy, but he models some of the speeches of Cicero on the Roman orator's actual words. In "Poetaster," he lifts a whole satire out of Horace and dramatises it effectively for his purposes. The sophist Libanius suggests the situation of "The Silent Woman"; a Latin comedy of Giordano Bruno, "Il Candelaio," the relation of the dupes and the sharpers in "The Alchemist," the "Mostellaria" of Plautus, its admirable opening scene. But Jonson commonly bettered his sources, and putting the stamp of his sovereignty on whatever bullion he borrowed made it thenceforward to all time current and his own.
The lyric and especially the occasional poetry of Jonson has a peculiar merit. His theory demanded design and the perfection of literary finish. He was furthest from the rhapsodist and the careless singer of an idle day; and he believed that Apollo could only be worthily served in singing robes and laurel crowned. And yet many of Jonson's lyrics will live as long as the language. Who does not know "Queen and huntress, chaste and fair." "Drink to me only with thine eyes," or "Still to be neat, still to be dressed"? Beautiful in form, deft and graceful in expression, with not a word too much or one that bears not its part in the total effect, there is yet about the lyrics of Jonson a certain stiffness and formality, a suspicion that they were not quite spontaneous and unbidden, but that they were carved, so to speak, with disproportionate labour by a potent man of letters whose habitual thought is on greater things. It is for these reasons that Jonson is even better in the epigram and in occasional verse where rhetorical finish and pointed wit less interfere with the spontaneity and emotion which we usually associate with lyrical poetry. There are no such epitaphs as Ben Jonson's, witness the charming ones on his own children, on Salathiel Pavy, the child-actor, and many more; and this even though the rigid law of mine and thine must now restore to William Browne of Tavistock the famous lines beginning: "Underneath this sable hearse." Jonson is unsurpassed, too, in the difficult poetry of compliment, seldom falling into fulsome praise and disproportionate similtude, yet showing again and again a generous appreciation of worth in others, a discriminating taste and a generous personal regard. There was no man in England of his rank so well known and universally beloved as Ben Jonson. The list of his friends, of those to whom he had written verses, and those who had written verses to him, includes the name of every man of prominence in the England of King James. And the tone of many of these productions discloses an affectionate familiarity that speaks for the amiable personality and sound worth of the laureate. In 1619, growing unwieldy through inactivity, Jonson hit upon the heroic remedy of a journey afoot to Scotland. On his way thither and back he was hospitably received at the houses of many friends and by those to whom his friends had recommended him. When he arrived in Edinburgh, the burgesses met to grant him the freedom of the city, and Drummond, foremost of Scottish poets, was proud to entertain him for weeks as his guest at Hawthornden. Some of the noblest of Jonson's poems were inspired by friendship. Such is the fine "Ode to the memory of Sir Lucius Cary and Sir Henry Moryson," and that admirable piece of critical insight and filial affection, prefixed to the first Shakespeare folio, "To the memory of my beloved master, William Shakespeare, and what he hath left us." to mention only these. Nor can the earlier "Epode," beginning "Not to know vice at all," be matchedin stately gravity and gnomic wisdom in its own wise and stately age.
But if Jonson had deserted the stage after the publication of his folio and up to the end of the reign of King James, he was far from inactive; for year after year his inexhaustible inventiveness continued to contribute to the masquing and entertainment at court. In "The Golden Age Restored," Pallas turns from the Iron Age with its attendant evils into statues which sink out of sight; in "Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue," Atlas figures represented as an old man, his shoulders covered with snow, and Comus, "the god of cheer or the belly," is one of the characters, a circumstance which an imaginative boy of ten, named John Milton, was not to forget. "Pan's Anniversary," late in the reign of James, proclaimed that Jonson had not yet forgotten how to write exquisite lyrics, and "The Gipsies Metamorphosed" displayed the old drollery and broad humorous stroke still unimpaired and unmatchable. These, too, and the earlier years of Charles were the days of the Apollo Room of the Devil Tavern where Jonson presided, the absolute monarch of English literary Bohemia. We hear of a room blazoned about with Jonson's own judicious 'Leges Convivales' in letters of gold, of a company made up of the choicest spirits of the time, devotedly attached to their veteran dictator, his reminiscences, opinions, affections, and enmities. And we hear, too, of valorous potations; but in the words of Herrick addressed to his master, Jonson, at the Devil Tavern, as at the Dog, the Triple Tun, and at the Mermaid,
"We such clusters had As made us nobly wild, not mad, And yet each verse of thine Outdid the meat, outdid the frolic wine."
But the patronage of the court failed in the days of King Charles, though Jonson was not without royal favours; and the old poet returned to the stage, producing, between 1625 and 1633, "The Staple of News," "The New Inn," "The Magnetic Lady," and "The Tale of a Tub," the last doubtless revised from a much earlier comedy. None of these plays met with any marked success, although the scathing generalisation of Dryden that designated them "Jonson's dotages" is unfair to their genuine merits. Thus the idea of an office for the gathering, proper dressing, and promulgation of news (wild flight of the fancy in its time) was an excellent subject for satire on the existing absurdities among the newsmongers; although as much can hardly be said for "The Magnetic Lady," who, in her bounty, draws to her personages of differing humours to reconcile them in the end according to the alternative title, or "Humours Reconciled." These last plays of the old dramatist revert to caricature and the hard lines of allegory; the moralist is more than ever present, the satire degenerates into personal lampoon, especially of his sometime friend, Inigo Jones, who appears unworthily to have used his influence at court against the broken-down old poet. And now disease claimed Jonson, and he was bedridden for months. He had succeeded Middleton in 1628 as Chronologer to the City of London, but lost the post for not fulfilling its duties. King Charles befriended him, and even commissioned him to write still for the entertainment of the court; and he was not without the sustaining hand of noble patrons and devoted friends among the younger poets who were proud to be "sealed of the tribe of Ben."
Jonson died, August 6, 1637, and a second folio of his works, which he had been some time gathering, was printed in 1640, bearing in its various parts dates ranging from 1630 to 1642. It included all the plays mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs, excepting "The Case is Altered;" the masques, some fifteen, that date between 1617 and 1630; another collection of lyrics and occasional poetry called "Underwoods, including some further entertainments; a translation of "Horace's Art of Poetry" (also published in a vicesimo quarto in 1640), and certain fragments and ingatherings which the poet would hardly have included himself. These last comprise the fragment (less than seventy lines) of a tragedy called "Mortimer his Fall," and three acts of a pastoral drama of much beauty and poetic spirit, "The Sad Shepherd." There is also the exceedingly interesting 'English Grammar' "made by Ben Jonson for the benefit of all strangers out of his observation of the English language now spoken and in use," in Latin and English; and 'Timber, or discoveries' "made upon men and matter as they have flowed out of his daily reading, or had their reflux to his peculiar notion of the times." The 'Discoveries', as it is usually called, is a commonplace book such as many literary men have kept, in which their reading was chronicled, passages that took their fancy translated or transcribed, and their passing opinions noted. Many passage of Jonson's 'Discoveries' are literal translations from the authors he chanced to be reading, with the reference, noted or not, as the accident of the moment prescribed. At times he follows the line of Macchiavelli's argument as to the nature and conduct of princes; at others he clarifies his own conception of poetry and poets by recourse to Aristotle. He finds a choice paragraph on eloquence in Seneca the elder and applies it to his own recollection of Bacon's power as an orator; and another on facile and ready genius, and translates it, adapting it to his recollection of his fellow-playwright, Shakespeare. To call such passages—which Jonson never intended for publication—plagiarism, is to obscure the significance of words. To disparage his memory by citing them is a preposterous use of scholarship. Jonson's prose, both in his dramas, in the descriptive comments of his masques, and in the 'Discoveries', is characterised by clarity and vigorous directness, nor is it wanting in a fine sense of form or in the subtler graces of diction.
When Jonson died there was a project for a handsome monument to his memory. But the Civil War was at hand, and the project failed. A memorial, not insufficient, was carved on the stone covering his grave in one of the aisles of Westminster Abbey:
"O rare Ben Jonson."
FELIX E. SCHELLING.
THE COLLEGE, PHILADELPHIA, U.S.A.
COMPLETE LIST OF HIS PUBLISHED WORKS:—
Every Man in his Humour, 4to, 1601; The Case is Altered, 4to, 1609; Every Man out of his Humour, 4to, 1600; Cynthia's Revels, 4to, 1601; Poetaster, 4to, 1602; Sejanus, 4to, 1605; Eastward Ho (with Chapman and Marston), 4to, 1605; Volpone, 4to, 1607; Epicoene, or the Silent Woman, 4to, 1609 (?), fol., 1616; The Alchemist, 4to, 1612; Catiline, his Conspiracy, 4to, 1611; Bartholomew Fayre, 4to, 1614 (?), fol., 1631; The Divell is an Asse, fol., 1631; The Staple of Newes, fol., 1631; The New Sun, 8vo, 1631, fol., 1692; The Magnetic Lady, or Humours Reconcild, fol., 1640; A Tale of a Tub, fol., 1640; The Sad Shepherd, or a Tale of Robin Hood, fol., 1641; Mortimer his Fall (fragment), fol., 1640.
To Jonson have also been attributed additions to Kyd's Jeronymo, and collaboration in The Widow with Fletcher and Middleton, and in the Bloody Brother with Fletcher.
Epigrams, The Forrest, Underwoods, published in fols., 1616, 1640; Selections: Execration against Vulcan, and Epigrams, 1640; G. Hor. Flaccus his art of Poetry, Englished by Ben Jonson, 1640; Leges Convivialis, fol., 1692. Other minor poems first appeared in Gifford's edition of Works.
Timber, or Discoveries made upon Men and Matter, fol., 1641; The English Grammar, made by Ben Jonson for the benefit of Strangers, fol., 1640.
Masques and Entertainments were published in the early folios.
Fol., 1616, vol. 2, 1640 (1631-41); fol., 1692, 1716-19, 1729; edited by P. Whalley, 7 vols., 1756; by Gifford (with Memoir), 9 vols., 1816, 1846; re-edited by F. Cunningham, 3 vols., 1871; in 9 vols., 1875; by Barry Cornwall (with Memoir), 1838; by B. Nicholson (Mermaid Series), with Introduction by C. H. Herford, 1893, etc.; Nine Plays, 1904; ed. H. C. Hart (Standard Library), 1906, etc; Plays and Poems, with Introduction by H. Morley (Universal Library), 1885; Plays (7) and Poems (Newnes), 1905; Poems, with Memoir by H. Bennett (Carlton Classics), 1907; Masques and Entertainments, ed. by H. Morley, 1890.
J. A. Symonds, with Biographical and Critical Essay, (Canterbury Poets), 1886; Grosart, Brave Translunary Things, 1895; Arber, Jonson Anthology, 1901; Underwoods, Cambridge University Press, 1905; Lyrics (Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher), the Chap Books, No. 4, 1906; Songs (from Plays, Masques, etc.), with earliest known setting, Eragny Press, 1906.
See Memoirs affixed to Works; J. A. Symonds (English Worthies), 1886; Notes of Ben Jonson Conversations with Drummond of Hawthornden; Shakespeare Society, 1842; ed. with Introduction and Notes by P. Sidney, 1906; Swinburne, A Study of Ben Jonson, 1889.
SEJANUS: HIS FALL
TO THE NO LESS NOBLE BY VIRTUE THAN BLOOD
ESME LORD AUBIGNY
My LORD,-If ever any ruin were so great as to survive, I think this be one I send you, The Fall of Sejanus. It is a poem, that, if I well remember, in your lordship's sight, suffered no less violence from our people here, than the subject of it did from the rage of the people of Rome; but with a different fate, as, I hope, merit: for this hath outlived their malice, and begot itself a greater favour than he lost, the love of good men. Amongst whom, if I make your lordship the first it thanks, it is not without a just, confession of the bond your benefits have, and ever shall hold upon me,
Your lordship's most faithful honourer. BEN JONSON.
TO THE READERS
THE following and voluntary labours of my friends, prefixed to my book, have relieved me in much whereat, without them, I should necessarily have touched. Now I will only use three or four short and needful notes, and so rest.
First, if it be objected, that what I publish is no true poem, in the strict laws of time, I confess it: as also in the want of a proper chorus; whose habit and moods are such and so difficult, as not any, whom I have seen, since the ancients, no, not they who have most presently affected laws, have yet come in the way of. Nor is it needful, or almost possible in these our times, and to such auditors as commonly things are presented, to observe the old state and splendour of dramatic poems, with preservation of any popular delight. But of this I shall take more seasonable cause to speak, in my observations upon Horace his Art of Poetry, which, with the text translated, I intend shortly to publish. In the mean time, if in truth of argument, dignity of persons, gravity and height of elocution, fulness and frequency of sentence, I have discharged the other offices of a tragic writer, let not the absence of these forms be imputed to me, wherein I shall give you occasion hereafter, and without my boast, to think I could better prescribe, than omit the due use for want of a convenient knowledge.
The next is, lest in some nice nostril the quotations might savour affected, I do let you know, that I abhor nothing more; and I have only done it to shew my integrity in the story, and save myself in those common torturers that bring all wit to the rack; whose noses are ever like swine, spoiling and rooting up the Muses' gardens; and their whole bodies like moles, as blindly working under earth, to cast any, the least, hills upon virtue. Whereas they are in Latin, and the work in English, it was presupposed none but the learned would take the pains to confer them: the authors themselves being all in the learned tongues, save one, with whose English side I have had little to do. To which it may be required, since I have quoted the page, to name what editions I followed: Tacit. Lips. in quarto, Antwerp, edit. 1600; Dio. folio, Hen. Steph. 1592. For the rest, as Sueton, Seneca, etc., the chapter doth sufficiently direct, or the edition is not varied.
Lastly, I would inform you, that this book, in all numbers, is not the same with that which was acted on the public stage; wherein a second: pen had good share: in place of which, I have rather chosen to put weaker, and no doubt, less pleasing, of mine own, than to defraud so happy a genius of his right by my loathed usurpation.
Fare you well, and if you read farther of me, and like, I shall not be afraid of it, though you praise me out.
Neque enim mihi cornea fibra est.
But that I should plant my felicity in your general saying, good, or well, etc., were a weakness which the better sort of you might worthily contemn, if not absolutely hate me for.
BEN JONSON; and no such,
Quem Palma negata macrum, donata reducit opimum.
AELIUS SEJANUS, son to Seius Strabo, a gentleman of Rome, and born at Vulsinium; after his long service in court, first under Augustus; afterward, Tiberius; grew into that favour with the latter, and won him by those arts, as there wanted nothing but the name to make him a co-partner of the empire. Which greatness of his, Drusus, the emperor's son, not brooking; after many smothered dislikes, it one day breaking out, the prince struck him publicly on the face. To revenge which disgrace, Livia, the wife of Drusus (being before corrupted by him to her dishonour, and the discovery of her husband's counsels) Sejanus practiseth with, together with her physician called Eudemus, and one Lygdus an eunuch, to poison Drusus. This their inhuman act having successful and unsuspected passage, it emboldeneth Sejanus to further and more insolent projects, even the ambition of the empire; where finding the lets he must encounter to be many and hard, in respect of the issue of Germanicus, who were next in hope for the succession, he deviseth to make Tiberius' self his means, and instils into his ears many doubts and suspicions, both against the princes, and their mother Agrippina; which Caesar jealously hearkening to, as covetously consenteth to their ruin, and their friends. In this time, the better to mature and strengthen his design, Sejanus labours to marry Livia, and worketh with all his ingine, to remove Tiberius from the knowledge of public business, with allurements of a quiet and retired life; the latter of which, Tiberius, out of a proneness to lust, and a desire to hide those unnatural pleasures which he could not so publicly practise, embraceth: the former enkindleth his fears, and there gives him first cause of doubt or suspect towards Sejanus: against whom he raiseth in private a new instrument, one Sertorius Macro, and by him underworketh, discovers the other's counsels, his means, his ends, sounds the affections of the senators, divides, distracts them: at last, when Sejanus least looketh, and is most secure with pretext of doing him an unwonted honour in the senate, he trains him from his guards, and with a long doubtful letter, one day hath him suspected, accused, condemned, and torn in pieces by the rage of the people.
TIBERIUS. HATERIUS. DRUSUS SENIOR. SANQUINIUS. NERO. POMPONIUS. DRUSUS JUNIOR. JULIUS POSTHUMUS. CALIGULA. FULCINIUS TRIO. LUCIUS ARRUNTIUS. MINUTIUS. CAIUS SILIUS. SATRIUS SECUNDUS. TITIUS SABINUS. PINNARIUS NATTA. MARCUS LEPIDUS. OPSIUS. CREMUTIUS CORDUS. Tribuni. ASINIUS GALLUS. Praecones. REGULUS. Flamen. TERENTIUS. Tubicines. GRACINUS LACO. Nuntius. EUDEMUS. Lictores. RUFUS. Minisri. SEJANUS. Tibicines. LATIARIS. Servi etc. VARRO. SERTORIUS MACRO. AGRIPPINA. COTTA. LIVIA. DOMITIUS AFER. SOSIA.
SCENE I.-A State Room in the Palace.
Enter SABINUS and SILIUS, followed by LATIARIS.
Sab. Hail, Caius Silius!
Sil. Titius Sabinus, hail! You're rarely met in court.
Sab. Therefore, well met.
Sil.'Tis true: indeed, this place is not our sphere.
Sab. No, Silius, we are no good inginers. We want their fine arts, and their thriving use Should make us graced, or favour'd of the times: We have no shift of faces, no cleft tongues, No soft and glutinous bodies, that can stick, Like snails on painted walls; or, on our breasts, Creep up, to fall from that proud height, to which We did by slavery, not by service climb. We are no guilty men, and then no great; We have no place in court, office In state, That we can say, we owe unto our crimes: We burn with no black secrets, which can make Us dear to the pale authors; or live fear'd Of their still waking jealousies, to raise Ourselves a fortune, by subverting theirs. We stand not in the lines, that do advance To that so courted point.
Enter SATRIUS and NATTA, at a distance.
Sil. But yonder lean A pair that do.
Sab. [salutes Latiaris.] Good cousin Latiaris.——
Sil. Satrius Secundus, and Pinnarius Natta, The great Sejanus' clients: there be two, Know more than honest counsels; whose close breasts, Were they ripp'd up to light, it would be found A poor and idle sin, to which their trunks Had not been made fit organs. These can lie, Flatter, and swear, forswear, deprave, inform, Smile, and betray; make guilty men; then beg The forfeit lives, to get their livings; cut Men's throats with whisperings; sell to gaping suitors The empty smoke, that flies about the palace; Laugh when their patron laughs; sweat when he sweats; Be hot and cold with him; change every mood, Habit, and garb, as often as he varies; Observe him, as his watch observes his clock; And, true, as turquoise in the dear lord's ring, Look well or ill with him: 6 ready to praise His lordship, if he spit, or but p—— fair, Have an indifferent stool, or break wind well; Nothing can 'scape their catch.
Sab. Alas! these things Deserve no note, conferr'd with other vile And filthier flatteries, that corrupt the times; When, not alone our gentries chief are fain To make their safety from such sordid acts; But all our consuls, and no little part Of such as have been praetors, yea, the most Of senators, that else not use their voices, Start up in public senate and there strive Who shall propound most abject things, and base. So much, as oft Tuberous hath been heard, Leaving the court, to cry, O race of men; Prepared for servitude!——which shew'd that he. Who least the public liberty could like, As lothly brook'd their flat servility.
Sil. Well, all is worthy of us, were it more, Who with our riots, pride, and civil hate, Have so provok'd the justice of the gods: We, that, within these fourscore years, were born Free, equal lords of the triumphed world, And knew no masters, but affections; To which betraying first our liberties, We since became the slaves to one man's lusts; And now to many: every minist'ring spy That will accuse and swear, is lord of you, Of me, of all our fortunes and our lives. Our looks are call'd to question, and our words, How innocent soever, are made crimes; We shall not shortly dare to tell our dreams, Or think, but 'twill be treason. Sab. Tyrants' arts Are to give flatterers grace; accusers, power; That those may seem to kill whom they devour.
Enter CORDUS and ARRUNTIUS.
Now, good Cremutius Cordus
Cor. [salutes Sabinus] Hail to your lordship!
Nat. [whispers Latiaris.] Who's that salutes your cousin?
Lat. 'Tis one Cordus, A gentleman of Rome: one that has writ Annals of late, they say, and very well.
Nat. Annals! of what times?
Lat. I think of Pompey's, And Caius Caesar's; and so down to these.
Nat. How stands he affected to the present state! Is he or Drusian, or Germanic, Or ours, or neutral?
Lat. I know him not so far.
Nat. Those times are somewhat queasy to be touch'd. Have you or seen, or heard part of his work?
Lat. Not I; he means they shall be public shortly.
Nat. O, Cordus do you call him?
Lat. Ay. [Exeunt Natta and Satrius
Sab. But these our times Are not the same, Arruntius.
Arr. Times! the men, The men are not the same: 'tis we are base, Poor, and degenerate from the exalted strain Of our great fathers. Where is now the soul Of god-like Cato? he, that durst be good, When Caesar durst be evil; and had power, As not to live his slave, to die his master? Or where's the constant Brutus, that being proof Against all charm of benefits, did strike So brave a blow into the monster's heart That sought unkindly to captive his country? O, they are fled the light! Those mighty spirits Lie raked up with their ashes in their urns, And not a spark of their eternal fire Glows in a present bosom. All's but blaze, Flashes and smoke, wherewith we labour so, There's nothing Roman in us; nothing good, Gallant, or great: 'tis true that Cordus says, "Brave Cassius was the last of all that race."
Drusus passes over the stage, attended by HATERIUS, etc.
Sab. Stand by! lord Drusus.
Hat. The emperor's son! give place.
Sil. I like the prince well.
Arr. A riotous youth; There's little hope of him.
Sab. That fault his age Will, as it grows, correct. Methinks he bears Himself each day more nobly than other; And wins no less on men's affections, Than doth his father lose. Believe me, I love him; And chiefly for opposing to Sejanus.
Sil. And I, for gracing his young kinsmen so, The sons of prince Germanicus: it shews A gallant clearness in him, a straight mind, That envies not, in them, their father's name.
Arr. His name was, while he lived, above all envy; And, being dead, without it. O, that man! If there were seeds of the old virtue left, They lived in him.
Sil. He had the fruits, Arruntius, More than the seeds: Sabinus, and myself Had means to know him within; and can report him. We were his followers, he would call us friends; He was a man most like to virtue; in all, And every action, nearer to the gods, Than men, in nature; of a body as fair As was his mind; and no less reverend In face, than fame: he could so use his state, Tempering his greatness with his gravity, As it avoided all self-love in him, And spite in others. What his funerals lack'd In images and pomp, they had supplied With honourable sorrow, soldiers' sadness, A kind of silent mourning, such, as men, Who know no tears, but from their captives, use To shew in so great losses.
Cor. I thought once, Considering their forms, age, manner of deaths, The nearness of the places where they fell, To have parallel'd him with great Alexander: For both were of best feature, of high race, Year'd but to thirty, and, in foreign lands, By their own people alike made away. Sab, I know not, for his death, how you might wrest it: But, for his life, it did as much disdain Comparison, with that voluptuous, rash, Giddy, and drunken Macedon's, as mine Doth with my bondman's. All the good in him, His valour and his fortune, he made his; But he had other touches of late Romans, That more did speak him: Pompey's dignity, The innocence of Cato, Caesar's spirit, Wise Brutus' temperance; and every virtue, Which, parted unto others, gave them name, Flow'd mix'd in him. He was the soul of goodness; And all our praises of him are like streams Drawn from a spring, that still rise full, and leave The part remaining greatest.
Arr. I am sure He was too great for us, and that they knew Who did remove him hence.
Sab. When men grow fast Honour'd and loved. there is a trick in state, Which jealous princes never fail to use, How to decline that growth, with fair pretext, And honourable colours of employment, Either by embassy, the war, or such, To shift them forth into another air, Where they may purge and lessen; so was he: And had his seconds there, sent by Tiberius, And his more subtile dam, to discontent him; To breed and cherish mutinies; detract His greatest actions; give audacious check To his commands; and work to put him out In open act of treason. All which snares When his wise cares prevented, a fine poison Was thought on, to mature their practices.
Enter SEJANUS talking to TERENTIUS, followed by SATRlUS, NATTA, etc.
Cor. Here comes Sejanus.
Sil. Now observe the stoops, The bendings, and the falls.
Arr. Most creeping base!
Sej. [to Natta.] I note them well: no more. Say you?
Sat. My lord, There is a gentleman of Rome would buy-
Sej. How call you him you talk'd with?
Sat. Please your lordship, It is Eudemus, the physician to Livia, Drusus' wife.
Sej. On with your suit. Would buy, you said-
Sat. A tribune's place, my lord.
Sej. What will he give?
Sat. Fifty sestertia.
Sej. Livia's physician, say you, is that fellow?
Sat. It is, my lord: Your lordship's answer.
Sej. To what?
Sat. The place, my lord. 'Tis for a gentleman Your lordship will well like of, when you see him; And one, that you may make yours, by the grant.
Sej. Well, let him bring his money, and his name.
Sat. 'Thank your lordship. He shall, my lord.
Sej. Come hither. Know you this same Eudemus? is he learn'd?
Sat. Reputed so, my lord, and of deep practice.
Sej. Bring him in, to me, in the gallery; And take you cause to leave us there together: I would confer with him, about a grief—— On. [Exeunt Sejanus, Satrius, Terentius, etc.
Arr. So! yet another? yet? O desperate state Of grovelling honour! seest thou this, O sun, And do we see thee after? Methinks, day Should lose his light, when men do lose their shames, And for the empty circumstance of life, Betray their cause of living.
Sil. Nothing so. Sejanus can repair, if Jove should ruin. He is now the court god; and well applied With sacrifice of knees, of crooks, and cringes; He will do more than all the house of heaven Can, for a thousand hecatombs. 'Tis he Makes us our day, or night; hell, and elysium Are in his look: we talk of Rhadamanth, Furies, and firebrands; but it is his frown That is all these; where, on the adverse part, His smile is more, than e'er yet poets feign'd Of bliss, and shades, nectar——
Arr. A serving boy! I knew him, at Caius' trencher, when for hire He prostituted his abused body To that great gormond, fat Apicius; And was the noted pathic of the time.
Sab. And, now, the second face of the whole world! The partner of the empire, hath his image Rear'd equal with Tiberius, born in ensigns; Commands, disposes every dignity, Centurions, tribunes, heads of provinces, Praetors and consuls; all that heretofore Rome's general suffrage gave, is now his sale. The gain, or rather spoil of all the earth, One, and his house, receives.
Sil. He hath of late Made him a strength too, strangely, by reducing All the praetorian bands into one camp, Which he commands: pretending that the soldiers, By living loose and scatter'd, fell to riot; And that if any sudden enterprise Should be attempted, their united strength Would be far more than sever'd; and their life More strict, if from the city more removed.
Sab. Where, now, he builds what kind of forts he please, Is heard to court the soldier by his name, Woos, feasts the chiefest men of action, Whose wants, not loves, compel them to be his. And though he ne'er were liberal by kind, Yet to his own dark ends, he's most profuse, Lavish, and letting fly, he cares not what To his ambition.
Arr. Yet, hath he ambition? Is there that step in state can make him higher, Or more, or anything he is, but less?
Sil. Nothing but emperor.
Arr. The name Tiberius, I hope, will keep, howe'er he hath foregone The dignity and power.
Sil. Sure, while he lives.
Arr. And dead, it comes to Drusus. Should he fail, To the brave issue of Germanicus; And they are three: too many-ha? for him To have a plot upon!
Sab. I do not know The heart of his designs; but, sure, their face Looks farther than the present.
Arr. By the gods, If I could guess he had but such a thought, My sword should cleave him down from head to heart, But I would find it out: and with my hand I'd hurl his panting brain about the air In mites, as small as atomi, to undo The knotted bed-
Sab. You are observ'd, Arruntius.
Arr. [turns to Natta, Terentius, etc.] Death! I dare tell him so; and all his spies: You, sir, I would, do you look? and you.
(The former scene continued.) A Gallery discovered opening into the state Room. Enter SATRIUS with EUDEMUS.
Sat. Here he will instant be: let's walk a turn; You're in a muse, Eudemus.
Eud. Not I, sir. I wonder he should mark me out so! well, Jove and Apollo form it for the best. [Aside.
Bat. Your fortune's made unto you now, Eudemus, If you can but lay bold upon the means; Do but observe his humour, and—believe it— He is the noblest Roman, where he takes——
Enter SEJANUS. Here comes his lordship.
Sej. Now, good Satrius.
Sat. This is the gentleman, my lord.
Sej. Is this? Give me your hand—we must be more acquainted. Report, sir, hath spoke out your art and learning: And I am glad I have so needful cause, However in itself painful and hard, To make me known to so great virtue.——Look, Who is that, Satrius? [Exit Sat.] I have a grief, sir, That will desire your help. Your name's Eudemus!
Eud. It is, my lord.
Sej. I hear you are Physician to Livia, the princess.
Eud. I minister unto her, my good lord.
Sej. You minister to a royal lady, then.
Eud. She is, my, lord, and fair.
Sej. That's understood Of all her sex, who are or would be so; And those that would be, physic soon can make them: For those that are, their beauties fear no colours.
Eud. Your lordship is conceited.
Sej. Sir, you know it, And can, if need be, read a learned lecture On this, and other secrets. 'Pray you, tell me, What more of ladies besides Livia, Have you your patients?
Eud. Many, my good lord. The great Augusta, Urgulania, Mutilia Prisca, and Plancina; divers——
Sej. And all these tell you the particulars Of every several grief? how first it grew, And then increased; what action caused that; What passion that: and answer to each point That you will put them?
Eud. Else, my lord, we know not How to prescribe the remedies.
Sej. Go to, you are a subtile nation, you physicians! And grown the only cabinets in court, To ladies' privacies. Faith, which of these Is the most pleasant lady in her physic? Come, you are modest now.
Eud. 'Tis fit, my lord.
Sej. Why, sir, I do not-ask you of their urines, Whose smell's most violet, or whose siege is best, Or who makes hardest faces on her stool? Which lady sleeps with her own face a nights? Which puts her teeth off, with her clothes, in court? Or, which her hair, which her complexion, And, in which box she puts it; These were questions, That might, perhaps, have put your gravity To some defence of blush. But, I enquired, Which was the wittiest, merriest, wantonnest? H armless intergatories, but conceits.—— Methinks Augusta should be most perverse, And froward in her fit.
Eud. She's so, my lord.
Sej. I knew it: and Mutilia the most jocund.
Eud. 'Tis very true, my lord.
Sej. And why would you Conceal this from me, now? Come, what is Livia? I know she's quick and quaintly spirited, And will have strange thoughts, when she is at leisure: She tells them all to you.
Eud. My noblest lord, He breathes not in the empire, or on earth. Whom I would be ambitious to serve In any act, that may preserve mine honour, Before your lordship.
Sej. Sir, you can lose no honour, By trusting aught to me. The coarsest act Done to my service, I can so requite, As all the world shall style it honourable: Your idle, virtuous definitions, Keep honour poor, and are as scorn'd as vain: Those deeds breathe honour that do suck in gain.
Eud. But, good my lord, if I should thus betray The counsels of my patient, and a lady's Of her high place and worth; what might your lordship, Who presently are to trust me with your own, Judge of my faith?
Sej. Only the best I swear. Say now that I should utter you my grief, And with it the true cause; that it were love, And love to Livia; you should tell her this: Should she suspect your faith; I would you could Tell me as much from her; see if my brain Could be turn'd jealous.
Eud. Happily, my lord, I could in time tell you as much and more; So I might safely promise but the first To her from you.
Sej. As safely, my Eudemus, I now dare call thee so, as I have put The secret into thee.
Eud. My lord——
Sej. Protest not, Thy looks are vows to me; use only speed, And but affect her with Sejanus' love, Thou art a man, made to make consuls. Go.
Eud. My lord, I'll promise you a private meeting This day together.
Sej. Canst thou?
Sej. The place?
Eud. My gardens, whither I shall fetch your lordship
Sej; Let me adore my AEsculapius. Why, this indeed is physic! and outspeaks The knowledge of cheap drugs, or any use Can be made out of it! more comforting Than all your opiates, juleps, apozems, Magistral syrups, or—— Be gone, my friend, Not barely styled, but created so; Expect things greater than thy largest hopes, To overtake thee: Fortune shall be taught To know how ill she hath deserv'd thus long, To come behind thy wishes. Go, and speed. [Exit Eudemus. Ambition makes more trusty slaves than need. These fellows, by the favour of their art, Have still the means to tempt; oft-times the power. If Livia will be now corrupted, then Thou hast the way, Sejanus, to work out His secrets, who, thou know'st, endures thee not, Her husband, Drusus: and to work against them. Prosper it, Pallas, thou that better'st wit; For Venus hath the smallest share in it. Enter TIBERIUS and DRUSUS, attended. Tib. [to Haterius, who kneels to him.] We not endure these flatteries; let him stand; Our empire, ensigns, axes, rods and state Take not away our human nature from us: Look up on us, and fall before the gods.
Sej. How like a god speaks Caesar!
Arr. There, observe! He can endure that second, that's no flattery. O, what is it, proud slime will not believe Of his own worth, to hear it equal praised Thus with the gods!
Oar. He did not hear it, sir.
Arr. He did not! Tut, he must not, we think meanly. 'Tis your most courtly known confederacy, To have your private parasite redeem, What he, in public, subtilely will lose, To making him a name.
Hat. Right mighty lord—— [Gives him letters.
Tib. We must make up our ears 'gainst these assaults Of charming tongues; we pray you use no more These contumelies to us; style not us Or lord, or mighty, who profess ourself The servant of the senate, and are proud T' enjoy them our good, just, and favouring lords.
Car. Rarely dissembled!
Arr. Prince-like to the life.
Sab. When power that may command, so much descends, Their bondage, whom it stoops to, it intends.
Tib. Whence are these letters?
Hat. From the senate.
Tib. So. [Lat. gives him letters. Whence these?
Lat. From thence too.
Tib. Are they sitting now?
Lat. They stay thy answer, Caesar.
Sil. If this man Had but a mind allied unto his words, How blest a fate were it to us, and Rome! We could not think that state for which to change, Although the aim were our old liberty: The ghosts of those that fell for that, would grieve Their bodies lived not, now, again to serve. Men are deceived, who think there can be thrall Beneath a virtuous prince: Wish'd liberty Ne'er lovelier looks, than under such a crown. But, when his grace is merely but lip-good. And that, no longer than he airs himself Abroad in public, there, to seem to shun The strokes and stripes of flatterers, which within Are lechery unto him, and so feed His brutish sense with their afflicting sound, As, dead to virtue, he permits himself Be carried like a pitcher by the ears, To every act of vice: this is the case Deserves our fear, and doth presage the nigh And close approach of blood and tyranny. Flattery is midwife unto prince's rage: And nothing sooner doth help forth a tyrant, Than that and whisperers' grace, who have the time, The place, the power, to make all men offenders.
Arr. He should be told this; and be bid dissemble With fools and blind men: we that know the evil, Should hunt the palace-rats or give them bane; Fright hence these worse than ravens, that devour T he quick, where they but prey upon the dead: He shall be told it.
Sab. Stay, Arruntius, We must abide our opportunity; And practise what is fit, as what is needful. It is not safe t' enforce a sovereign's ear: Princes hear well, if they at all will hear.
Arr. Ha, say you so? well! In the mean time, Jove, (Say not, but I do call upon thee now,)
Sil. 'Tis well pray'd.
Tib. [having read the letters.] Return the lords this voice,—— We are their creature, And it is fit a good and honest prince, Whom they, out of their bounty, have instructed With so dilate and absolute a power, Should owe the office of it to their service. And good of all and every citizen. Nor shall it e'er repent us to have wish'd The senate just, and favouring lords unto us, Since their free loves do yield no less defence To a prince's state, than his own innocence. Say then, there can be nothing in their thought Shall want to please us, that hath pleased them; Our suffrage rather shall prevent than stay Behind their wills: 'tis empire to obey, Where such, so great, so grave, so good determine. Yet, for the suit of Spain, to erect a temple In honour of our mother and our self, We must, with pardon of the senate, not Assent thereto. Their lordships may object Our not denying the same late request Unto the Asian cities: we desire That our defence for suffering that be known In these brief reasons, with our after purpose. Since deified Augustus hindered not A temple to be built at Pergamum, In honour of himself and sacred Rome; We, that have all his deeds and words observed Ever, in place of laws, the rather follow'd That pleasing precedent, because with ours, The senate's reverence, also, there was join'd. But as, t' have once received it, may deserve The gain of pardon; so, to be adored With the continued style, and note of gods, Through all the provinces, were wild ambition. And no less pride: yea, even Augustus' name Would early vanish, should it be profaned With such promiscuous flatteries. For our part, We here protest it, and are covetous Posterity should know it. we are mortal; And can but deeds of men: 'twere glory enough, Could we be truly a prince. And, they shall add Abounding grace unto our memory, That shall report us worthy our forefathers, Careful of your affairs, constant in dangers, And not afraid of any private frown For public good. These things shall be to us Temples and statues, reared in your minds, The fairest, and most during imagery: For those of stone or brass, if they become Odious in judgment of posterity, Are more contemn'd as dying sepulchres, Than ta'en for living monuments. We then Make here our suit, alike to gods and men; The one, until the period of our race, To inspire us with a free and quiet mind, Discerning both divine and human laws; The other, to vouchsafe us after death, An honourable mention, and fair praise, To accompany our actions and our name: The rest of greatness princes may command, And, therefore, may neglect; only, a long, A lasting, high, and happy memory They should, without being satisfied, pursue: Contempt of fame begets contempt of virtue.
Bat. Most divine!
Sej. The oracles are ceased, That only Caesar, with their tongue, might speak.
Arr. Let me be gone: most felt and open this!
Arr. What! to hear more cunning and fine words, With their sound flatter'd ere their sense be meant?
Tib. Their choice of Antium, there to place the gift Vow'd to the goddess for our mother's health, We will the senate know, we fairly like: As also of their grant to Lepidus, For his repairing the AEmilian place, And restoration of those monuments: Their grace too in confining of Silanus To the other isle Cithera, at the suit Of his religious sister, much commends Their policy, so temper'd with their mercy. But for the honours which they have decreed To our Sejanus, to advance his statue In Pompey's theatre, (whose ruining fire His vigilance and labour kept restrain'd In that one loss,) they have therein out-gone Their own great wisdoms, by their skilful choice, And placing of their bounties on a man, Whose merit more adorns the dignity, Than that can him; and gives a benefit, In taking, greater than it can receive. Blush not, Sejanus, thou great aid of Rome, Associate of our labours, our chief helper; Let us not force thy simple modesty With offering at thy praise, for more we cannot, Since there's no voice can take it. No man here Receive our speeches as hyperboles: For we are far from flattering our friend, Let envy know, as from the need to flatter. Nor let them ask the causes of our praise: Princes have still their grounds rear'd with themselves, Above the poor low flats of common men; And who will search the reasons of their acts, Must stand on equal bases. Lead, away: Our loves unto the senate. [Exeunt Tib., Sejan., Natta, Hat., Lat., Officers, etc.
Cor. Great Pompey's theatre was never ruin'd Till now, that proud Sejanus hath a statue Rear'd on his ashes.